RSV Season is Here: What Is The Respiratory Syncytial Virus?


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RSV can cause lead to hospitalizations for some people. Image by the CDC

RSV can cause lead to hospitalizations for some people. Image by the CDC.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV is an illness that is similar to the common cold, and mostly occurs from the fall to the spring.

Although RSV is a common ailment, it is more serious for infants and the elderly as it can develop into bronchitis, pneumonia, and other complications. During RSV season it is important for you to know ways that you can prevent the illness, as well as signs and symptoms of RSV.

RSV: Signs and Symptoms

Most children get RSV by the time they are two years old and in most cases infants experience mild, cold-like symptoms. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year in the United States, RSV results in hospitalization for 75,000 to 125,000 infants younger than a year old. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, in mild cases in adults and older children, signs and symptoms are very similar to that of a common cold – they may include a runny or congested nose, a dry cough, a low-grade fever, sore throat, and/or a mild headache.

Unfortunately, however, RSV can also lead to lower respiratory tract infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. When this happens, you may see symptoms like a high fever, a severe cough, wheezing- a high pitched noise that you hear during exhaling, rapid breathing, or even difficulty breathing, a bluish tint to the skin, and difficulty sucking and swallowing in infants.

Watch your loved one’s chest when he or she breathes. In severe cases of RSV, babies can develop a stridor, which is when they draw in their chest muscles and skin between their ribs and makes a whistling noise. Here’s how that sounds:

If you hear this sound, it means the child is having trouble breathing, and you should call your pediatrician right away.  You should also call your child’s pediatrician when your baby has a fever of more than 100.4° F in the first three months of life, 101° F or greater between three and six months, or 103° F after six months of age or when he or she has any of the above signs and symptoms, according to the March of Dimes.

RSV Treatment

RSV generally goes away on its own, within eight to 15 days, but sometimes infants, immune-compromised individuals, and the elderly need to be hospitalized to receive oxygen, medications such as bronchodilators that help open up the airways, and sometimes antiviral drugs. If you or a loved one receive an RSV diagnosis, talk with your doctor about ways you can relieve symptoms and prevent dehydration at home.

RSV Transmission and Prevention

RSV transmits like a typical virus – it passes from person to person when the sick person coughs or sneezes and droplets land on another person or on a surface or object. When the otherwise-healthy person touches the contaminated object or surface, rubs his or her eyes, nose, or mouth, the virus can enter the body. During RSV season, the March of Dimes recommends keeping your baby away from people who are sick, avoiding crowds, not allowing anyone to smoke near your baby, and making sure everyone has clean hands before they touch or hold your baby.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus

RSV is generally a mild illness; however it can lead to a more serious illness such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Premature babies, those with underlying medical issues, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk for developing a more severe case of RSV. Taking precautions can help prevent RSV – but if you or a loved one experience severe symptoms, see a doctor.

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